The fireweed is synonymous with Alaska and is a photographer's friend in that it helps to break up all of the green and give a pop of color to a beautiful photo. It is also the state flower and can be found along every highway. It acts as a calendar of sorts for the Alaskan people because it blooms in a sequential fashion - starting at the bottom of the stalk and working its way up as the summer progresses.
So now the last blooms of the fireweed grace the tip of the stalk which means summer is coming to an end. Sadly, it is also my sign to start heading toward home.
The last couple of weeks have been spent leisurely soaking up as much of the beauty as I can and waiting for the sun to dip low enough below the horizon so that I might be able to see the spectacle that is the aurora borealis. I have never seen these magical lights and am so hoping that I will be lucky enough to see them while I am in one of the best places on earth to do so.
So I have been killing time. First I spent a few days in Anchorage. I was fortunate enough to find an RV repair shop that could get my van in for a look at the water tank. I got a couple of recommendations from the Facebook group I am part of to go to Performance RV. They got me in the next day and even gave me a ride to a local restaurant while they worked on it. It was a reasonable and fairly quick repair - they just needed to replace a coupling and screen that were causing the leak - and I was back in business.
While in Anchorage, I checked out Earthquake Park - a park with trails along the Knik Arm in the spot where the earthquake of 1964 cause a landslide destroying 75 homes. The park is one stop along the Tony Knowles Trail which is 11 miles long, paved, and heavily used by Anchorage residents. Also along the trail is Point Woronzof Park located along the arm and right in the line of jets taking off and landing from Ted Stevens International Airport. I hung out there for a while, got a few nice pics of the city, and watched the jets overhead. Just a few miles from there is another airport - this one for seaplanes. Lake Hood and Lake Spenard connect to make a long "runway" and are the site of the world's busiest seaplane base with an average of 190 flights per day.
I decided to slowly make my way up to Fairbanks where I hope to see the lights. I meandered down Petersen Road where I was delayed by some not-so-wildlife blocking the road. A herd of domestic sheep were either on the lam or are allowed to roam free. I spent a night out in the middle of the Denali Highway - a 135 mile gravel road with unbelievable scenery and then, as I was driving north to Denali and not even thinking about it, The Great One came into full view! I pulled over to a roadside parking area and started taking a million pictures. When I came up for air, I noticed a gentleman nearby also taking some photos and saw that he was wearing a Green Bay Packer hat. I asked him if he was from Wisconsin and he said that he was - originally - but has lived in Alaska for 40 years - staying after coming up in the 70's to work on the pipeline. He told me that he was driving back to his home in Palmer from Circle, where he had been visiting a friend. I had considered going up to Circle but he strongly advised against it. He said the road was in terrible shape and very slippery in spots. He also said there were two times where he was being chased by bull moose in rut and, since the road was so bad and he couldn't go very fast, they almost caught up and rammed his car! That was enough to steer me away from making that trip. I asked him if, even after 40 years, seeing the mountain was still special and he reminded me that he had stopped to get pictures so it obviously still impresses him.
I drove the park road in Denali as far as allowed a couple more times and really noticed how the landscape is changing. The tundra has come alive with reds, oranges and yellows and I'm really glad to be able to see the season change. It was rut time for moose in the park and I saw two males about to 'lock horns' over a female who was just watching them from about 20 feet away. And I couldn't resist taking another photo of the train crossing the bridge.
I finally got to Fairbanks where I settled in at the Walmart. It has now been about 2 weeks without paying for an overnight site. Of that time, most were gorgeous boondocking spots along the way. I got into a routine of staying up till around 2:00 am when skies were clear or partly cloudy but, after 4 days and no lights, I decided to move along. I knew there was still a good chance of seeing them along the way home so I started down the Richardson Highway to connect with the Alaska Highway. At this point, I am not sure if I will take the Cassiar Highway back (and stop in Hyder again) or take the Alaska Highway to Dawson Creek. The beauty of having no plans is that I can decide as I go.
My last night in Alaska was at a free campground in Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge. A fitting way to say goodbye - a beautiful night on a scenic lake.
The good news is... the rest of the drive home is pretty stunning, too!